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The Polyvagal Theory - 1 Page Lesson

Updated: Mar 20, 2023

..This is a segment from my Polyvagal One Pagers free PDF in my File Share. There are more short lessons on the fundamentals of the Polyvagal Theory in that PDF as well. These are useful for your own short lessons, classes you might teach or handouts you might give out at a seminar or workshop.


The Polyvagal Theory is the science that underlies mammalian connection and defense responses... including human beings. Dr Stephen Porges first published the theory in 1994.

The Polyvagal Theory is the first to illustrate the three distinct neural pathways, which evolved over time into a hierarchical structure. These three neural platforms control our abilities to socially engage with each other, mobilize or immobilize.

The vagus nerve is the highway these three neural platforms utilize. Each one is part of the autonomic nervous system. Social engagement and immobility are parasympathetic; while the mobility platform is sympathetic. These are each autonomic, meaning outside of our conscious awareness. For the most part, we don’t direct the ANS. Things like breathing, heart rate, digestion and sweating. We don’t choose these things, they just happen based on what autonomic platform is active.

  • Ventral vagus = safety system

  • Sympathetic = mobilization

  • Dorsal vagal = immobilization

When we are safe, our parasympathetic social engagement neural circuitry is activated. We have use of our face and neck muscles. When we are in danger, the flight/fight sympathetic circuitry is activated. This allows us to run with our legs for evasion or use our arms for being aggressive. And when we are undergoing a life threat, our immobility circuitry is activated. This results in a shutdown, collapsed behavior.

It’s also possible to mix these primary neural platforms. Activating the safety/social engagement system along with the mobility system results in play. Activating the safety/social engagement system along with the immobility system results in stillness. And activating the mobility system along with the immobility system results in freeze.

For even more information on the Polyvagal Theory, check out these other resources I have:

  • You can download a 1-page Polyvagal Theory resource in my File Share. There's this and many many other one-pagers for you to use.

  • The Polyvagal 101 page

  • the Polyvagal Theory on the Stuck Not Broken podcast, episodes 101-109

  • plus everything else I have in the blog and the Polyvagal 101 course


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